Last Sunday, Bishop Greg visited our parish. Two people were received into the Episcopal Church to live out their baptismal faith in this communion, and one person baptized as an adult, reaffirmed her baptismal faith to the bishop. It was a good day! It was our Feast Day, Pentecost, where we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. And today, Trinity Sunday can kind look like a reprise of the Spirit celebration. If you closely read the lectionary for today, rather than worry about what the concept of the Trinity means, you will see that a lot more gets said either about that pesky Spirit or is understood through the Spirit.
Bishop Greg had some words to say to us about change, and about how the Spirit leads us through change. His sermon was less about doing a dive into change, but more about being open to change. Bishop Greg told us of a rabbi friend who illustrates the difference between a tourist and a pilgrim to the Holy Land: the tourist comes to the Holy Land to ask questions of the land and the people, and the pilgrim comes and allows the land and people to question them. This can be applied throughout our lives. When we approach something that causes us anxiety, perhaps we should recognize it and ask whatever it is, what it has to teach us. That’s how to let the Spirit in. Chances are it will not be comfortable.
In this week’s Scripture, Isaiah is uncomfortable. Like Isaiah, chances are we don’t want to see God— actually, probably not. God’s holiness is so awe-inspiring that even the angels avert their eyes. There is a lot of language, particularly in the Hebrew scriptures, that speaks of not being able to look upon God’s face and live. In all honesty, most of us just want to make our confession of where we have erred, be sustained by communion and just hope/ well, pray, that God forgives our rather measly efforts at being and doing right. And we surely don’t want to actually change anything. I mean, that’s the most we can hope for, right? “Dear Lord, Forgive me, I’m trying to do right. Thanks bunches…”
But get this, God makes us ready. We are not ready, but God makes us ready. God has plans for us, which is not the same as “everything happens for a reason”, but …God has plans, and almost always that involves change.
God makes us ready. In the passage from Isaiah, it is the hot coal to the lips to make the lips clean which makes the prophet ready to do God’s work. In the Epistle, we are children of God, adopted. In the Gospel, we are birthed “from above.” How much more does God want to know us? God makes us ready and equips us… made clean, adopted, and birthed from above, we are the very children of God, even if perhaps you feel undeserved or maybe do not want to be.
And even if you had what you may consider less than optimal biological parents, we do all know how childhood and parents are supposed to be. There are not supposed to be favorite children. All the children are loved, unconditionally, and the parents keeps working with the children until the children play nicely with each other. So, you see, the metaphor for all of us being children of God is perfect. This is why we are invited to call God “ABBA”—– the all-holy transcendent power who creates and sustains the world, is also the one who is there for you in the ordinary too, making you ready for the next thing, as immanent, as close as your breath. And God wants to know us, love us, no favorites, and to get along.
So God makes us ready, and God is with us, but for what purpose?
Well, God is always revealing God’s purpose. Revelation continues and the Spirit is continuing to teach us new things. The wind is blowing. We may think that God spoke long ago in the past and is now silent, but God remains active, revealing, opening us up to new truth, speaking to us still. God is the source of continuing and fresh revelation. How do we know it is of God? The same way we always have. We measure the new revelation by the canon of love, mutuality, the gift we see in the self-offering love of Christ. That is old truth that lives in any new truth of God.
And so, at least for the next little bit, what change we are going to embrace as a church, is to pray the covenant to root out our racism. I didn’t ask Bishop Greg to preach the sermon he preached around change, but the diocese wants its priests to name our white privilege, and to learn about it, uncomfortable as that may be. Do I think every line in this covenant will resonate with every person in the congregation? Probably not. We all start where we are. We are all in various stages of ready. But we must begin. God will help us begin, to open our eyes, to look at where we are, and I hope and pray that praying opens us up to possibilities for change.
This covenant we will pray I think aligns just about right with that canon of love I mentioned. That measure of love that we use to confirm that God’s Spirit is working among us. And so, if we allow ourselves, our prayers will teach us where we need to change, and who we need to be. When we call God ABBA, our prayers will show us who God calls us to be. God’s Spirit makes us ready by prayer. Our prayers, which after all is our conversation with God, leads us to be the change that the world so desperately needs. If not us, then who? And if not now, then when?